Oulart's generosity allows Gaels force to spark into life
O'Loughlins 3-17 Oulart 0-17
When David Redmond launched Oulart-The Ballagh's fifth point without a response in the opening 10 minutes of this Leinster senior club hurling semi-final in Wexford Park, so crisp and efficient was their hurling that you could only see one outcome.
In just about every battle they were on top and the collective outcome of that was overwhelming. Even when O'Loughlin Gaels' Mark Kelly delivered a brilliant 12th-minute goal, after an initial shot by Sammy Johnston was blocked by Tommy Storey, Oulart looked unyielding, picking off the next two scores through Nicky Kirwan and eventually restoring their five-point lead on 18 minutes when Barry Kehoe and Eoin Moore did the approach work for a third Gareth Sinnott score.
But the nature of O'Loughlin Gaels' second goal was crushing, Mark Bergin's long-range shot slipping agonisingly through Conor O'Leary's grasp in the 19th minute to paint a completely different picture. After all the play they had, after all the swift movement up front, they were just two points clear, 0-9 to 2-1, and looking fragile.
The Kilkenny champions didn't need a second invitation. They pressed on with a new formation, and central to that was Bergin's drift to midfield where he became the main influence. His pace and energy were crucial.
There were other changes. Brian Hogan moved out to the wing where he was more comfortable while Eddie Kearns switched corners on to Kirwan whose early influence waned.
By the 24th minute the game was level, thanks to Martin Comerford's first score and, by the break, O'Loughlin Gaels were 2-6 to 0-11 clear.
"If we had taken a goal in that period of time it would have cemented what we were doing well. But they got two goals, I won't say against the run of play but a bit fortunate and I don't think we really recovered from it," reflected joint-manager Frank Flannery afterwards.
"We chased the game and they went very unorthodox in their shape and we played on their terms. Something we don't like doing is pushing up the field too far but we ended up doing that. We got Brian Hogan moved out of the centre and I was saying to myself that we were doing the right thing but we just needed to take a goal chance and didn't do it."
Oulart have been the dominant Wexford team and their character can't be questioned after the manner of their recovery from that gut-wrenching defeat to Mount Leinster Rangers in the 2013 Leinster final. But with the age profile of key players pushing up, survival at the higher altitude of provincial club hurling may be more challenging.
That said, Comerford is now 38 and he left an indelible mark with four superb points that have become his trademark over the years, winning possession out on either wing and launching an over-the-shoulder shot off either side, barely bothering to give the posts a second glance.
"For a fella now that hasn't really trained since the county final (groin injury), he had a great game," reflected Gaels manager Aidan Fogarty.
"He just goes out and hurls his normal game and forgets about the injury and got a few great scores. A Martin Comerford score is worth... it's a big score from our point of view and it just gets the crowd going as well."
Oulart may have felt they had steadied the ship in the early minutes of the second half when they drew level through the impressive Redmond but the certainty of that opening quarter had deserted them. Their generosity manifested once again when Anthony Roche was robbed as he went to make a pass out of defence and with the path clear Johnston exploited for a third goal on 37 minutes.
O'Loughlin Gaels piled in after that with Danny Loughnane, Bergin and midfielder Paddy Deegan, a player Brian Cody might just be drawn to, establishing a six-point lead.
Bergin and Kelly were at the heart of everything and set up the next two scores for Comerford for a nine-point lead that was never on the horizon after the first 20 minutes. Bergin, recalled to the Kilkenny squad this year, finished with 1-8, and his manager acknowledged the difference he made.
"We said we'd bring Mark out because he's very good to work around the lines, read the play and link up the play as well."
Flannery was adamant their goalkeeper O'Leary would be above reproach for the second goal and predicted an Oulart recovery from this too.
"Conor has been a revelation the last two years so I wouldn't criticise him," he said. "If it had gone nip and tuck who knows what would have happened but the third goal really hurt us and the game was over then. They'll be back again. I've been involved in 23 championship matches in two years with them and I think we've won 21. A lot of teams don't win that in a decade."